Australia-Japan Society of Tasmania
Kendo (剣道 kendō, lit. "sword way") is a modern Japanese martial art, which descended from samurai culture and swordsmanship (kenjutsu). Modern kendo is practiced with bamboo swords (shinai) and protective armour (bōgu) and is an activity that combines martial arts practices and values with strenuous sport-like physical activity. Today, kendo is widely practiced within Japan and many other nations across the world. In Japan, kendo is centrally practiced in the educative sport club (bukatsu) system. Specifically, sport university kendo clubs play a vital role in educating members with socio-cultural values and connections deemed beneficial for their futures.
To preserve a sense of ‘traditional’ identity and cultural ownership, modern kendo, re-produces some gendered aspects of Tokugawa period (1603-1868) samurai culture. Thus, kendo clubs can be highly gendered social spaces where women learn a specific social positioning and purpose in society. As such, women tend to receive less resources and development opportunities in kendo compared to men. In this way kendo continues to re-position gender more so than other social spaces in Japan. This is problematic as the gender regimes and gender hierarchy present in Japanese kendo does affect the way that it is practiced around the world.
This public lecture explored how female Japanese sports university kendo practitioners negotiate their identity to accumulate capital and personal meaning in the processes of club membership. Given the entrenched male proprietorship of kendo and its symbolic value, it is difficult to change how women are positioned in the field of kendo. However, as a result of their positioning, women can enjoy the freedom of expressing a ‘bigendered identity’ and experience intrinsic reward in kendo more so than men as they are bound to a separate sphere of oppressive systems and articulations. Albeit a result of patriarchy, women do experience agency and can positively create their own raison d'être through the practice of kendo.
Dr Kate Sylvester conducted an extensive ethnographic research project for her doctoral thesis titled Negotiating Kendo Capital and Gendered Identity in a Japanese Sports University Kendo Club. Kate’s interest in gender and kendo resulted from her experiences competing at 6 world kendo championships over a 17-year period. Kate is the current National Head Coach of the Australian Kendo Team (women and men) and is only one of two female head coaches in the world to ever lead a national kendo team. Kate will be speaking on her research on gender and kendo.
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